I first fell in love with true pasta carbonara years ago at a small restaurant on a back alley in Rome. My experiences with carbonara up until that point had consisted of thick cream-based plates of pasta not much different than pasta alfredo. As a result, I had never been all that impressed with the dish. Little did I know, until this quiet afternoon in Rome, that pasta carbonara is actually supposed to be made without heavy cream. The sauce we were served in this restaurant was a warm gooey mixture of raw eggs, pecorino cheese, a little bacon, and a hefty dose of black pepper. The homemade pappardelle pasta didn’t hurt either!
Memories of that meal led me to recreate the dish at home many times. It is an impressive dish to whip up with ingredients you typically have in your pantry and fridge. And despite what others may say, I think this dish is relatively healthy. Eggs are a fabulous complete source of protein and contain a bounty of vitamins and other nutrients. I like to make this dish heavy on the eggs and black pepper and lighter on the cheese and bacon to keep it within reason. If you used whole wheat pasta this would clearly be healthier, but I just can’t bring myself to do that. Trader Joe’s pappardelle is the closest dried pasta can come to the real thing I had in Rome, and I’m not giving up that part of the decadence!
This dish is so easy and once you have made it once, you can make it without the recipe over and over again. The toughest part is the last part, so pay close attention to the directions regarding the pouring of the eggs over the pasta. It is more of an art than a science, and if you are not careful, you will end up with scrambled eggs in your pasta (not that I have anything against that…) But if I can do it, you can do it! So take a stab at this recipe….I guarantee you have almost all of the ingredients already sitting there in your kitchen just waiting to be glorified in this dish.
Chef’s Note: If you are queasy about raw eggs, this dish is not for you. If you relish eggs benedict with runny poached eggs or dive right into a dish of steak tartar topped with a runny quail’s egg, you will love this.
Healthier Pasta Carbonara
4 large eggs*
1/2 package TJ pancetta
1 cup TJ fresh parmesan or pecorino romano cheese (ideally, you will buy a block of cheese and hand grate it. this cheese will melt into the pasta sauce easier. if you want to, however, you can use TJ’s pre-shredded parmesan cheese blend.)
4 cloves garlic
Freshly ground black pepper (lots) (it is important to use freshly ground pepper in this recipe. take that part to heart.)
* eating raw undercooked eggs may be dangerous blah blah blah…
1. Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil.
2. While water is boiling, place pancetta in pan over high heat. You will saute this while you are preparing other parts of the recipe until the pancetta is golden brown. Monitor the heat of the pan to ensure that your pancetta does not burn during the cooking process. There is a fine line between golden brown and burnt. If you need to turn down the heat, do it.3. While pancetta is cooking, chop up 4 cloves of garlic. I don’t know that this is a traditional ingredient, so feel free to skip this step if you do not love garlic. I just think that a simple Italian dish like this can always use a little garlic.
5. When pancetta is golden brown, toss in the garlic and reduce the heat to medium-low. We are cooling down the pan a little so that when we add the pasta and the eggs, the eggs do not scramble. The pan can only be lukewarm at that time.6. Scramble the eggs! Add the shredded cheese and go ahead and add 8 cranks of the pepper mill. 7. PAY ATTENTION TO THIS STEP AND DO IT QUICKLY SO EVERYTHING STAYS HOT!
a) When the 10 minute timer for the pasta goes off, drain it. Turn off the heat on the pan with the pancetta entirely. If you are using a non-gas stove, remove the pan from the burner.
b) Dump the pasta into the pan and, using tongs, toss it with the pancetta and garlic briefly.
c) Pour the egg and cheese mixture over the pasta slowly while turning the pasta with the tongs so the pasta is evenly coated. (best done with a partner if you can grab one!)
d) Crank more black pepper over the pasta and turn to coat evenly in the pepper and the egg sauce.
e) Serve immediately, topped with an extra crank of black pepper.